Harrogate Spring Water faces up to its critics with positive message

Harrogate Spring Water is proud to fly the flag for the town as the UK’s number one out-of-home, naturally-sourced water brand.

Thursday, 14th January 2021, 4:47 pm
Updated Thursday, 14th January 2021, 5:10 pm

Such has been its success, the company had grown at an average of more than 24% annually since 2014, achieving sales of £21.6million in the last financial year before Covid.

But there’s always been more to Harrogate Spring Water’s story than sales - or its reputation for using advanced technology for a more environmentally-friendly result .

It has always looked on itself as a good neighbour to residents on Harlow Hill where it is based and to the walkers who make a trek through the woodland and natural wonder of the Pinewoods nearby.

James Cain OBE, Harrogate Water CEO, (left) and James Pearson, Managing Director, Danone Waters UK & Ireland.

One thing it is not accustomed to is the sort of controversy it has faced over the last 12 months since it applied to revise its outline planning consent for plans to expand its bottling plant facility to meet growing worldwide demand for its product.

Since then, concern over the plans which would necessitate the removal of a sizable area of Rotary Woods has grown from the likes of Pinewoods Conservation Group, Duchy Residents Society, Harrogate Civic Society, Harrogate Green Party, Harrogate Rotary Club and Zero Carbon Harrogate.

Speaking about the situation in depth for the first time since the Covid pandemic, Rob Pickering, a director at Harrogate Spring Water, was keen to reassure people that its commitment to protect the environment, as well as the local economy, remained as strong as ever.

Harrogate Spring Water is hoping to expand its current bottling site on Harlow Moor Road, but has come up against stiff opposition from campaigners who do not want to see Rotary Wood damaged.

Mr Pickering said: “The extension to our existing facility will help in enabling us to continue our role in supporting the local and regional economy.

“What we are also committed to doing as a result of the expansion, is continue our role as environmental stewards in protecting and enhancing our catchment and the greenspace that surrounds our site.

“At Harrogate Spring Water, we understand how important and precious the outdoors is.

“We want to reassure people that we are and will continue to be a good considerate neighbour within Harrogate.”

The company says their plans will see the creation of a woodland, wildflower meadows and the introduction of a pond to continue efforts to promote local wildlife and biodiversity.

After successfully winning outline planning permission in 2017, the debate turned into a dispute when Harrogate Spring Water announced in 2019 it would be submitting a new version of the plans to Harrogate Borough Council, increasing the size of the developable area near the Pinewoods.

But Mr Pickering, one of four board members in the company, said the revised plan was needed to avoid having to come to the same point in a few years time.

He said: “It’s been a tough year for us as a business like anyone else but we are confident our trajectory will continue upwards once we get through the virus.

“This is a one-time application designed to prevent the need to go back and ask for more space again in years to come. There seems to be quite a few people who don’t realise this isn’t a brand new application. It’s exactly the same site area but the developable area has increased from 0.77 hectares to 0.94 hectares.

“I can’t say exactly what the size of the new building will be yet. We might not use all of the space identified in the application.”

As well as the pandemic, another new factor has been the arrival of Danone, the French food and water giant which last year bought a majority stake in the family-owned company which supplies water to Royal Ascot and the Royal Albert Hall.

The changes saw managing director James Cain OBE join the management team of Danone Waters UK, committed to leading the firm in a way which involves community groups in Harrogate.

Mr Pickering said: “We have worked proactively with the community to involve them in the plans at all points.

“We understand the significance of this site to Harrogate. The end result will not just be good for the Harrogate economy, it will be something all the public can enjoy.”

As well as worries for the woodlands surrounding Harorgate Spring Water, opponents also fear the start of a slippery slope on the nature of the area.

But Mr Pickering argues that Danone and Harrogate Spring Water are singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to not only economic expansion but also environmental conservation.

Mr Pickering said: “Being part of Danone and and the investment that brings, secures our growth for the future, which is fantastic. But they also share a lot of our values.

“This is a long-term project. The replacement planting will take a minimum of 30 years.

“Our aim is to improve the biodiversity and ecology of the area.”

Firm’s promise for the environment

It is Harrogate Spring Water’s intention to re-plant as many trees as possible from the old site to the new site, with a commitment to keep as many trees as possible, relocate those that can be and replace those that cannot fully - all in accordance with local policies.

The replacement trees will be planted in accordance with local requirements and will be pre-agreed as part of the planning process.

The replacement planting is a long-term project of a minimum of 30 years, which will be closely managed. As part of the plan to encourage biodiversity, Harrogate Spring Water is also enhancing habitats.

The following currently forms part of the proposal according to Harrogate Spring Water:

* An intensive ‘grassland type’ green roof;

* Seeded wildflower grassland banking around the new building;

* Enhancement of retained woodland and plantation as well as a small area given to replanting of trees;

* Provision of a high-quality pond / wetland feature collecting rainwater from the site;

* Long term management (minimum of 30 years) of habitats to achieve at least moderate condition;

* Accelerated succession of grassland to ‘other broadleaved woodland’ habitat;

* Creation of a new pond feature with planting;

* Removal of dense cherry laurel planting to provide space for additional woodland planting and an orchard.

There is also work being done to improve public access and suitability.

In addition to the above, Harrogate Spring Water has committed to bolstering more local green space nearby.

Having identified additional land, this will see the creation of a woodland, wildflower meadows and the introduction of a pond to continue efforts to promote local wildlife and biodiversity.

Rob Pickering, a senior representative from Harrogate Spring Water, said: “We’re proud to fly the flag for our town and region, helping take brand Harrogate onto a national and onto a global platform.

“We also want to continue our role as environmental stewards in protecting our catchment and the greenspace that surrounds our site in Harrogate.”

CORRECTION:

This article from Thursday, January 7 has been republished after the initial story said the company’s plans would see the creation of a public woodland.

We need to make it clear the planned replacement planting will be on private land with no public access. It is a section of the current Rotary Wood which would still have public access and to which the company has referred to in terms of improved paths, information boards etc

Last week’s article also said that this was a revised application, to increase the developable area from 7 to 9 hectares. This should have been ‘from 0.77 to up to 0.94 hectares’.

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